CA educators continue push to unionize, provide best education for online charter students

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by Brian Washington

Kelly Walters teaches students whose faces, for the most part, she’s never seen. That’s because Walters works for the California Virtual Academies (CAVA), an online charter school with thousands of students across the state.

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Her interaction happens via the computer. And while they see a small picture of her on the screen when she’s holding class, she cannot see and has no images of them.

But that hasn’t stopped Walters and her teaching colleagues from forming a bond with the K12 students they serve. CAVA educators share a deep commitment to making sure students get a quality education. That’s why they voted to form a union—so they can have a stronger voice to advocate on behalf of the children and teens they serve.

“That’s all we want,” said Walters. “We want to provide the best education within the state of California for all of our students, and we have almost 15,000 and we (the teachers) feel they are not getting the best education possible, the education they deserve.”

Pulled in too many directions

Walters believes that CAVA has hired a roster of talented educators. The problem, she says, is that they are pulled in too many directions and are forced to take on responsibilities that have very little to do with teaching and learning.

“The administrative responsibilities that fall onto CAVA teachers are anywhere from 70-to-90 percent, which leaves about 10-to-30 percent for teaching content, targeted tutoring, and making sure students are on track,” said Walters, who’s been with CAVA for five years.

“There’s no time to say to students, ‘Hey, can you pop into a classroom with me so I can explain this because you failed the last quiz. Let’s work on this so we can get you up to speed so it doesn’t happen again.’”

She also says the technology tools educators are given—and are key for online learning—are not as reliable as they should be.

Meanwhile, to make matters worse, a two-part investigative series by a San Jose newspaper is making the case that K12’s priority is to make a profit off the schools. The Mercury News reports that K12 is “taking advantage” of California’s charter laws to make money off its chain of virtual schools.

Let’s fix it together

Walters believes many of the problems, especially those related to classroom learning, can be fixed if the CAVA administration would just recognize educators’ decision to form a union and work collaboratively with them in deciding what’s best for students. However, CAVA has been reluctant to do so—fighting educators at every turn.

“Unfortunately, CAVA administration has continued to deny teachers a seat at the table by refusing to stop its delays and recognize our union,” said one CAVA educator, Nicole Kellersberger, in a recent opinion editorial. “In this, CAVA administration is standing solidly in the way of our school realizing its potential for our students.”

Last year, after state labor officials upheld the educators’ decision to unionize, CAVA moved to appeal. Both sides are now waiting to hear from the full Public Employee Relations Board, a decision that could be announced shortly.

CAVA students need your help

Students who attend CAVA cover a wide range and include those who are fighting serious illness, have been severely bullied at school and can’t go back to a traditional public school, and are young Olympic hopefuls with odd long training hours. Just like all students, Walters believes they too deserve a quality education, which is why she and her colleagues are asking the public to sign their petition.

They’re hoping that with enough signatures, they can pressure CAVA and K12 officials into partnering with them to fix the problems.

“We have a lot of students who can’t attend a brick and mortar, traditional public school,” said Walters. “And for them, this is the perfect opportunity to get a quality education. We want to fix it. We’re committed to fixing it. We want to make CAVA one of the best schools in the nation.”

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